As a child I would occasionally come across my father’s work shoes next to the closet. I’d put my small feet in his black Florshiems and try to walk up and down the hall without stepping out of the loafers, imagining what it would be like when I was as big and powerful as my dad. My father worked for the railroad. I figured anyone who could be in charge of those massive machines had to be superhuman, or at the very least tough as nails. Sometimes, on a Sunday, he’d take me and my brother out to the rail yard and lift us up into the engine of a train, letting us blow the horn while he moved the train down the tracks a few hundred yards. I didn’t really know what other fathers did for a living, but I knew father was a Trainmaster for the L & N railroad. And I always knew my father loved me and my brother, there was never any doubt about that.
The transition from viewing my father as superhero to human being was difficult for me, as I think it is for most people. When I became a teenager I began to notice the flaws in the world, as my wide-eyed innocence disappeared and was replaced by cynicism and rebellion. I removed my father from his pedestal and decided that he worked too much, drank too much, and wasn’t all that great at communicating. At the same time, my own addiction was beginning to progress, distorting my perception of reality and causing me to begin withdrawing from my family. By the time I was in my mid-twenties, my relationship with my father was strained, mostly due to my own addiction and my inability to support myself financially, burdening he and my mother by always asking them to bail me out or pick up the pieces.
It wasn’t until I got sober at twenty-seven that my perspective began to shift again in regards to my father. Once I started doing my own internal work I began to realize that my father’s faults paled in comparison to my own, and that there were many people in the world who would have given anything to have the kind of father I had. I also realized that luxuries like introspection and therapy weren’t ideas that he ever really had an opportunity to indulge in; for my father and my ancestors, suppressing emotions wasn’t a conscience choice, it was a means of survival. Eventually, I let go of my petty resentments against my father and made a decision to love him for the person he was, not who I thought he should have been. I believe that lesson has enabled me to be a good husband, a good counselor, and a decent human being.
It’s been nearly twelve years since my father died. While I wish I would have had more time with him, I know that I am blessed for the example he set for me and my brother. Prentice Browning taught me how to work, how to laugh, how to treat people with respect, and how to get up when you get knocked down. He loved baseball, food, dogs, a good time, and he loved his family most of all.
I don’t have any children, so I shy away from parenting advice. However, I will remind all the father’s of one thing: When your not looking, there may be a little boy or girl who puts on your shoes and walks around the house, hoping they can be just like you one day. Be mindful of the steps you take, they’re watching everything you do.